Author’s Note:  Set three months after Voyager’s return.  Tom has a private engagement with his wretched, well-aired past, but this time he brings something new to the table.  Rated PG.  Written January 2002.

Tom Paris backstory taken in part from Jeri Taylor’s novel, “Pathways.”  May not be canon, but it worked for this story, so I used it.  “A Farewell” credit to Charles Kingsley. Nods, also, to Paul Simon and Emily Dickinson.

Disclaimer:  Paramount owns it all.  Always has, always will.  I accept this.

Many and Many A Year Ago

by Diane Bellomo

The infant Miral fussed in B’Elanna’s arms.  B’Elanna shifted the baby to her shoulder, gently patting her back.

“Hey, babes, it’s okay.”  She growled softly into the baby’s ear, something that usually settled her, but wasn’t working this time.  “Tom, can you get me her pacifier?”  The diaper bag was on the floor between Tom’s feet.

Tom, obviously lost in thought in the seat beside her, didn’t really hear his wife.  But he heard his fussy daughter.  “Huh?  Yeah.  Can I hold her a while, Bee?”

Even though she knew he was preoccupied, B’Elanna also knew he would handle his child with the same delicate care as he had handled Voyager’s helm, possibly more so.  “Of course you can.”  She disengaged the still-whimpering infant from her shoulder as Tom reached for her and watched with a tiny smile at how comfortable they were with each other.  They had been like that from the very beginning.

He cradled Miral smoothly and she settled right into her daddy’s arms, cooing softly and readily accepting, as she always did, the little finger he offered in place of her pacifier. 

With only a little effort, B’Elanna banished the “protective mommy” concern about all the places that finger had been before gaining her daughter’s mouth, instead allowing herself to marvel at the way her baby girl quieted immediately, her big brown eyes fluttering before closing, as she sighed and sucked contentedly.  Tom leaned back in his seat, holding the baby just tightly enough, closed his own eyes and sighed in near perfect imitation of Miral.

B’Elanna sighed inwardly, her eyes still on her slumbering husband and daughter, trying not to be frustrated by the way the day was progressing.  She had wanted to get Tom to talk a little before they arrived on Academy grounds, but they were on a public shuttle, and though it was an eight-seater and carrying only two other passengers at this time of day, it was still not conducive to private, personal conversation. 

This was a vital trip for Tom, and B’Elanna knew she should have gotten him talking before they left their house in Santa Fe, but it never happened.  He had been unable to relax, disappearing down into the arroyo for an entire hour before they were scheduled to leave.  Okay, it wasn’t like they hadn’t already covered this ground a thousand times before, but the prospect of facing ghosts up close and personal left Tom shaky and unsure if he had made the right decision about making this trip.  At least he had not fallen back on smart-ass attitudes, but had kept his outlook mature and positive, even though his body remained in a fairly high state of agitation.  Unfortunately, it made a giant headache out of getting Miral ready to go, as she refused with impressive Klingon stubbornness to cooperate on any aspect of preparedness, from bathing to eating.

And now here they were, and not a word had been said.  Despite the stress of the situation, B’Elanna looked gratefully around the shuttle.  At least they were finally out of the hot spotlight and could travel on public shuttles now without being accosted by everyone from paparazzi to the kid next door.  It was a marked relief, and much better than having to use transporters just to go around locally.

It had been three months since Voyager’s return; three months of almost constant debriefings, holoconferences, face-to-face meetings, interviews, and (thank God) the occasional knock-down, drag-out party celebrating the great voyage that made them all hugely famous, despite the Dominion War that had taken place during their absence. 

Only in the past two weeks had the furor died way down, after Admiral Ross, in concert with the President of the United Federation of Planets, handed down his decision to grant amnesty and commissions (if they wanted them) to the entire crew, including the Maquis, Neelix, and Seven, and to offer Janeway the Admiralty, which she politely but adamantly refused without saying why.  She said she’d wait for Voyager’s refit, thank you very much, and Ross granted her that.

The pardon did not extend to the former crew of the Equinox.  However, unprecedented considerations had been given in their case, based on hours of brutal testimony by the Equinox Five themselves, Chakotay, and random other members of Voyager’s crew.  They would lose their commissions, but they would not serve any jail time and would be honorably discharged.

The verdict had been a great relief to persons such as Marla Gilmore, who had recently taken up with Harry Kim, as she seemed the most unable to shed her guilt over what Captain Ransom had forced his crew to do.  Though B’Elanna had not gotten to know the Equinox crewmembers very well, none of them had given her any trouble, and she was always happy when Harry was happy.  Perhaps Marla was finally The One.  At least she did not fit his previous criteria.  She was not alien, not the wrong twin, a hologram, a former Borg, or dead.  She smiled widely at her own joke, only just swallowing laughter that would have disturbed her little family.

Lost in her reflections, B’Elanna didn’t realize they had arrived until she felt the reverse thrusters kick in and the shuttle settle with barely a ripple on what appeared to be the exact center of the landing pad.  Tom, to all appearances as sound asleep as his daughter, finger still in her mouth, spoke and surprised her.

“Nice landing.  Gotta talk to that pilot.”

B’Elanna was oddly comforted.

*   *   *

They watched her walking towards them.  She was the only person in the small, subdued crowd several feet away who had bothered to approach.  Perhaps she had been chosen as their spokesperson.  She was tall and slim, with swept-back graying blonde hair, wearing a classic long-sleeved black dress and low black heels.  The day was warm enough not to warrant an outer garment.

“Hello, Tom Paris.”  Her voice, lightly accented, was neither warm nor cold in tone, but carefully neutral, indicating deeper emotions.  As if on cue, Miral began to squirm in her mother’s arms.  Tom felt B’Elanna shift closer to him, taking his hand and squeezing it.  This, he knew, was in response to Miral, who had from birth reacted unfavorably to his distress, whether it was showing on the outside or not.  His wife’s touch settled him, and this, in turn, settled Miral.

He gave B’Elanna’s hand a light squeeze in return and then looked squarely into the emerald eyes of Mrs. Launay, seeing immediately Odile, the woman he had loved all those years ago…the woman he had killed.  The woman he was here to mourn and to honor, along with his former best friend, Charlie Day, and their gentle bear buddy, Brunolf “Bruno” Katajavuori, in an annual service that had been taking place since the first funeral all those years ago.  The image of a pristine hillside of snow flashed in Tom’s mind, and he felt a corresponding ache in his throat from the memory.  He did not want this feeling to reach his face, not now, and worked to keep his features expressionless.

This was the first time he had attended this service.  He did not think it was the first time he had been invited, though he was not certain of that and had no interest in finding out for sure.  But it was the first time he wanted to attend.  He did not know if that was because of all the hoopla surrounding Voyager, if his reconciliation with his father had had some influence, if it was some combination of both – or if it was something else entirely.  He only knew he was a different man now, far different, with painful memories, and regrets, but also with joy…and with something he had never had before.  It was this new something that gave him strength just now.  He carefully modulated his own voice to reflect a bit more warmth.

“Hello, Mrs. Launay.”  He stepped back and brought B’Elanna forward.  I’d like you to meet my wife, B’Elanna Torres, and my daughter, Miral.”

Mrs. Launay directed a warm smile to B’Elanna.  “Hello, B’Elanna.  I’m Isabelle, Odile’s mother.  It’s nice to meet you.  You were Voyager’s Chief Engineer, correct?  What a remarkable job you did.  And isn’t she just adorable? ”

Tom saw that B’Elanna was uncomfortable with this attention, but she put up her usual sturdy front, answering Mr. Launay succinctly in the positive and graciously accepting the compliment about her daughter.  Miral chose that moment to gurgle happily, spitting little bubbles down her chin.  Isabelle reached out and wiped them up expertly with her finger, causing the baby to squeal in delight.  It looked to him like B’Elanna was about ready to comment on that, obviously cheered by Miral’s positive response, but Tom could almost see her bite her tongue at the last second.  He glanced at Isabelle Launay and saw an odd smile.  He looked back and forth between the two women, wondering what had just occurred.  His bewilderment was cleared up when Mrs. Launay spoke to his wife.

“Odile was not my only child, though I wiped bubbles from her chin, too.  No, now I have six grandchildren, all healthy and happy, and I’m actively wiping from both ends.”  She laughed sincerely then, and B’Elanna laughed as well, bouncing the still-happy Miral in her arms.

Tom was more than relieved to see this maternal camaraderie, as it eased some of the tension.  He was, however, unable to take his eyes off Mrs. Launay as his mind wandered to distant disparate places – holidays with his parents and sisters, parties with Charlie, in their room at the ski lodge with Odile.  He could not imagine what it must be like for this woman to have survived the loss of her daughter, no matter how many grandchildren she now had.  He was grateful for his own daughter, whose sweet innocence was keeping this conversation from turning deadly…

Miral made another baby noise, or maybe B’Elanna subtly bumped him, but all at once Mrs. Launay’s green eyes swirled into focus and Tom was abruptly returned to the moment.  The silence was deafening, despite birds singing in the trees around them.  Tom faltered, trying to get something out.  “Mrs. Launay…” but she cut him off with a finger to her lips.

“No, Tom,” she said, her accent becoming stronger, her voice deeper.  “It has been far too many years.  I have forgiven you for the accident you caused that killed my daughter, even as I have admired your…courage…to return in the first place to admit your lie, but…”  She paused, struggling, as if she was not used to speaking in this manner, “…I will never forget.”

He fought to keep his composure and not look away.  It was evident she knew as well as he did that it was nothing even remotely like courage that brought him back, even though her words did not shock or even surprise him.  What she said, he realized, was more than he ever expected to hear from her, and possibly the most honest thing he had ever heard regarding the incident.  He swallowed, nodded once.  “Fair enough.”

Mrs. Launay returned the nod sharply and then went back to cooing at the baby.  Clearly, it was all she intended to say about the subject.

After another moment passed, Isabelle looked at her wristwatch, an antique piece of gold jewelry, the face surrounded by what appeared to be diamonds, very rare nowadays.  “It’s about time.  Shall we go?”  Without waiting for an answer, or inviting them to join her, the woman turned and walked across the finely manicured lawn towards the small chapel beyond it.

Without taking his eyes off Isabelle Launay, Tom said, “I’m glad you’re with me, B’Elanna.”  They began walking to the chapel.

*   *   *

Several rows of pews were filled in the front of the chapel.  Tom and B’Elanna sat a few rows back.  Music played softly in the background.  Tom leaned forward and pulled a hymnal out of the holder fastened to the back of the pew in front of him, absently flipping through the pages.  B’Elanna freed one arm from around her daughter and placed her very warm hand on Tom’s.  He closed the book, smiled weakly, and reached over to stroke Miral’s cheek.

The music stopped, there was a moment of silence in which someone coughed nervously, and then Mrs. Launay stood and walked to the pulpit.  She carefully unfolded an old, faded piece of paper and began to read, first in French, and then in Standard.

“My fairest child, I have no song to give you;

No lark could pipe to skies so dull and gray;

Yet, ere we part, one lesson I can leave you

For every day.

Be good, sweet maid, and let who will be clever;

Do noble things, not dream them, all day long:

And so make life, death, and that vast forever

One grand, sweet song.”

She stepped back and took the arm of a younger man waiting behind her who faintly resembled her.  Tom figured it was one of her sons, as Odile had spoken of brothers and had also mentioned once that she thought her father was ill.  Perhaps he had died.  Perhaps, too, Isabelle Launay wiped spit bubbles from the chins of this man’s children, though the only child present was Miral.  Aside from asking outright, which he would not do, Tom had no way of knowing if these things were true.

The service progressed in this fashion, obviously a routine that had been repeated many times over, with others stepping forward and offering a prayer or a reading and then stepping back to allow another to come forward.  Tom easily recognized Charlie’s parents, and knew the big man with the thick accent was Bruno’s father, though his memory of meeting him was nebulous at best.

It was becoming increasingly uncomfortable for Tom, because each person who stood to speak seemed to look directly at him before starting.  In fact, the whole thing was starting to feel a bit surreal  -- the invitation, his acceptance of same, the public shuttle ride here, the conversation with Mrs. Launay, such as it was, the fact that he was sitting in a chapel.  It also seemed odd to Tom that there were no Starfleet uniforms in attendance, since they were, after all, on Starfleet grounds.  Then again, out of this group, no one but he and B’Elanna were actually members of Starfleet, and they weren’t wearing uniforms today.  He supposed he could inquire after the service, but he didn’t think he’d do that any more than he’d ask about spit bubbles.

After another moment of woolgathering, Tom looked up to the feel of eyes on him, and the worst suddenly occurred to him:  he had not been imagining it – this was why they kept looking at him:  they were expecting him to say something.  No, they weren’t expecting it, they were demanding it.

A chill went through him.  He thought it would be enough that he was here, but that was obviously not going to be the case.  My God, what could he possibly say to these people that hadn’t already been said before – if not by him, then by someone else.  These people who had lost loved ones at his careless hand.  He, on the other hand, was a big hero now.  He had a wife and family.  A mighty second chance.

They had nothing but memories, and Tom was nobody’s fool.  If Mrs. Launay said she could forgive but not forget, it was probably the same for Mr. and Mrs. Day, Mr. Katajavuori, and everyone else filling up those pews.  He heard his daughter mewl beside him.  He wondered if other men’s infant daughters served as barometers of their feelings as obviously as his did.  He would have to take a poll sometime.

He blinked and came back to the moment.  B’Elanna had Miral cradled in her arms and was swaying her back and forth, trying to keep her quiet.  She looked at him, her dark eyes blazing, her face set with a familiar determination.  Don’t let them get the best of you.  What’s past is past, and you are different now.

Well, he didn’t know what he was going to say, but he knew he was going to say something.  He rose but did not move out of the pew.  He simply cleared his throat and began from where he stood, addressing the parents of his friends.

“Mrs. Launay, Mr. and Mrs. Day, Mr. Katajavuori, I am so sorry for what happened.  If I could take it all back, I would.  In fact,” he chuckled without mirth, “with all these reports of time travel, including some with my name on ‘em, you’d think I’d be able to do just that.”  He paused for a moment, shook his head and broke free of his pathetic, ineffective apology, and started again with more conviction.

“I promise you, if a day comes when I have opportunity to fix this, I will, even if it means I give up my own second chance.”

He heard B’Elanna gasp behind him and Miral let loose a wail.  He might pay for this with B’Elanna, but he did not doubt for a moment that he would fix this mistake if he were ever given the chance.  But the thing that was different for him now was this new thing he carried within him, something he did not have in his past.

It was possible for him to believe that he might still be given his second chance without ever having to live through the horror of his first great error.  B’Elanna had given him this hope, this thing with feathers perched inside him, and his daughter had reinforced it.  Even if fixing his mistake erased his wife and child, he believed with all his heart that it would not erase his hope of finding them again. 

Pretty sappy for all the harsh reality he’d been through, he agreed to himself, but there it was, just as bright and as sure as the California sun shining through the chapel windows.

In the meantime, all eyes had turned to him, some filled with distinct surprise.  He had been silent for a while, though his daughter had not, and they were waiting for him to continue.

He spoke above her crying.  “Well, I guess that’s all I have to say.”  He sat down, and without a word B’Elanna gave Miral to him.  As he took the baby, he risked a glance into his wife’s sable eyes and saw only understanding and love, albeit tinged with a little fear, and he knew they would be okay.

Heck, he thought, amused, not only would they be okay, but B’Elanna would probably engineer a way to make sure she and Miral would be included in any new timeline he might have opportunity to create.

“I love you,” she mouthed, and he smiled, bouncing the baby gently in his lap.  Miral’s crying became cooing, hiccupping contentment.

*   *   *

Later, safely back in the house in Santa Fe, Tom Paris wept for the things he could not change.  But he did not lose his hope.  No, his hope held him fiercely in her strong, Klingon arms, and it was for sure she was never going to let him go, not in this timeline or in any other.


                                                            *  *  *  *  *  *  *  *  *  *  *  *  *  *  *

                                                            And you read your Emily Dickinson,

                                                            And I my Robert Frost,

                                                            And we note our place with bookmarkers,

                                                            That measure what we’ve lost.

-- “The Dangling Conversation”

    Paul Simon, 1966